#TTOT (The Tricks Of Transmission, October 23, 2016): 

How is an entity able to copy itself? How do the four DNA base (A, T, C, G) molecules function like ‘symbols’ leading to the entire genetic code? Why can’t a neuron be treated as a symbol? Are genetic and linguistic codes analogous to each other, with common notions of letters, words, sentences, grammar, and (even) punctuation marks? Is all DNA ‘useful’? How do proteins derive their meaning (function?), & how are they regulated? Does a sentence derive its value from the non linguistic realm? What is the interplay of syntax and semantics for transmission? Is the genetic language highly similar across different species? Can nearly similar structures have identical functions? Are genes the only mode of storing and transmitting biological information? How is information represented in the brain different? Is it likely that the grammar of language is similar across species? Is language constrained by biology (particularly neural systems)? Why don’t all memories get transmitted biologically? Does evolution depend upon replication errors? How are artificial intelligence systems different? Why are we (yet) unable to create an artificial cell in a test tube? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from machine learning & systems biology (Dr. Sumeet Agarwal, IIT Delhi, New Delhi), genetics (Prof. Subhash C. Lakhotia, BHU, Varanasi), & philosophy (Dr. Geeta Ramana, University of Mumbai, Mumbai).

SynTalk is pleased and privileged to have hosted the following SynTalkrs (in alphabetical order) on its #TTOT show.

Dr. Sumeet Agarwal (machine learning, systems biology, computational lingusitics) is currently an Assistant Professor with the Department of Electrical Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), New Delhi. He has a B.Tech. in Computer Science and Engineering from IIT Kanpur (2006) and a D.Phil. as a Clarendon Scholar in Systems Biology from Oxford (2012; supervisors were Nick Jones, Charlotte Deane, and Mason Porter). His research interests are in the application of machine learning for the modelling of natural systems, in particular biological, cognitive, and social systems. More broadly, he is interested in the philosophy of science, mind, and language: & in particular the epistemological questions of how we can come to form models of the natural world and what the relative roles of empiricism and rationalism are in this process. He was awarded the INSPIRE Faculty Fellowship by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in 2012. As part of this fellowship, Dr. Agarwal is focused on the challenge to understand cellular circuitry by studying the dynamics and control in the interactions between the genes/proteins & not merely static networks. He is also studying the integration of gene regulatory network with Protein Interaction Network (PIN) and aims to develop a framework which allows for modelling multiple aspects of the cellular machinery at different levels. He has also published in/for several leading international and national journals and conferences.

Prof. Subhash C. Lakhotia (genetics, cell & molecular biology) has been associated with the Department of Zoology of Banaras Hindu University since 1976. After superannuating in 2010, he has continued his academic activities and is currently working as the INSA Senior Scientist. He studied at Calcutta University and soon after his Ph.D. (1970), he started his career as Lecturer in Zoology at Burdwan University, moving later to Gujarat University. In his research, he has used the fruit fly (Drosophila) as his main experimental model to address various issues relating to chromosome organization and gene expression during normal development and under conditions of cell stress. One of his pioneering contributions has been the recognition of the importance of non-coding genes. Recently, he has introduced the fly model to understand the basic biology underlying Ayurvedic Rasayana. He has published more than 150 research articles and reviews in leading international and national journals and publications. Prof. Lakhotia is an elected Fellow of all the three National Science Academies (INSA, NASI, IAS) in India. He has received multiple awards, including, the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize (1989), INSA Young Scientist Prize (1975), UGC J C Bose Medal (1998), SL Hora Medal (2002, INSA), and INSA Jawaharlal Nehru Birth Centenary Visiting Fellowship (2009). Prof. Lakhotia is also on the editorial boards of several journals such as Journal of Biosciences, RNA Biology, Cell Stress and Chaperones, Current Science, and Annals of Neuroscience.

Dr. Geeta Ramana (philosophy) teaches at the University of Mumbai and is currently an Associate Professor with the Department of Philosophy. She joined the department in 1991 as a JRF Fellow and later as an Assistant Professor in 1995. Her areas of interest are philosophy of mind and language and problems and issues in classical and contemporary Indian and analytical philosophy. Her current teaching is in the area of consciousness studies and contemporary analytic philosophy. Her research students are working on the problem of consciousness, observation, language of law, issues in Greek and Vedantic philosophy as well as the Śramana traditions of Jainism and Buddhism. She has published a number of articles in journals such as the Journal of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research (JICPR) and the Indian Philosophical Quarterly (IPQ) and presented research papers in international conferences such as the World Congress of Philosophy (2013) and World Congress Aristotle (2016). Dr. Geeta has also been a visiting scholar to Cornell University (2007) and University of Vienna (2010). Her book publications include ‘Human Action, Consciousness and the Problems of Representation’ (OUP, 2014), and an edited volume on Prof. N. G. Kulkarni’s writings titled ‘Philosophical Reasoning: (Critical Essays on Issues in Metaphysics, Language, Logic, Ethics, and Indian Philosophy)’ (2015).

Note: Any & all errors in the brief profiles above are SynTalk’s own.

#TTOT mentionsJean-Baptiste Lamarck, Gregor Mendel, George Gamow, Marshall Nirenberg, Har Gobind Khorana, Claude Shannon, Francis Crick , John Searle, & Noam Chomsky, among others.